Oak Harbor serial rapist wants out after 16 years

Paul Harell, former Oak Harbor resident and convicted rapist, appeared in Island County Superior Court Wednesday. He served his sentence, but the state Attorney General’s Office is trying to have him involuntarily committed as a sexually violent predator. - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Paul Harell, former Oak Harbor resident and convicted rapist, appeared in Island County Superior Court Wednesday. He served his sentence, but the state Attorney General’s Office is trying to have him involuntarily committed as a sexually violent predator.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

A serial rapist who preyed on women and girls in Oak Harbor during the early 1990s was scheduled to be released from prison Sept. 1 after serving 16 years.

The state Attorney General’s Office, however, stepped in and had 37-year-old Paul Harell transported to the Island County jail. The office is attempting to have Harell deemed a “sexually violent predator” and civilly committed to the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Baker is handling the case against Harell. She and Harell were in court Wednesday for a probable cause hearing to determine if there’s enough reason to hold Harell. The hearing was continued because Harell didn’t have an attorney yet, but he made some emotional comments about the case.

“I want this part of my life over,” he said.

Judge Vickie Churchill warned that he should remain silent because his words could be used against him, but he continued.

“I know I’ve hurt plenty of people and my crimes are horrendous,” he said. “I understand the state wanting to civilly commit me.”

The 13-page certification for probable cause, written by Baker, lays out the case against Harell. The document describes how he raped or sexually assaulted four women and two teenaged girls by the time he was 22-years-old. All but one of the victims were Oak Harbor residents.

Harell was convicted in Island County Superior Court in 1993 of rape in the first degree and two counts of second-degree rape with forcible compulsion. He was sentenced to 16 years and two months in prison.

Beginning in December of 1992, Harell — who was in the Navy at the time — terrorized Oak Harbor by breaking into women’s homes and raping them at knifepoint. Harell’s last victim was a 17-year-old Oak Harbor girl. He was caught when he left his wallet behind after the victim’s sister attacked him with a fireplace poker.

If the state is successful, Harell will become the second person in Island County history committed under the state’s 1990 sexually violent predator civil commitment statute. In 2000, former Oak Harbor resident Curtis Brogi was sent to McNeil Island after a jury found that he was a sexually violent predator and likely to reoffend. He remains at the center today.

The goal of the law is to protect the public from sex offenders who have completed their sentences, but are considered to have a mental disorder that makes them likely to commit predatory acts of sexual violence. Those who are committed to the Special Commitment Center receive treatment until the court determines that they are ready for placement in a supervised residence.

A jury in Island County may ultimately decide whether Harell has such a disorder and should be committed.

According to the court document, Harell described his crimes to a psychologist during a forensic evaluation this year. He admitted he started peeping in a neighbor’s home in Oak Harbor for weeks before he broke in Dec. 27, 1992, and raped a woman who was asleep on the couch. He held a knife to her throat during the assault. He planned to rape her again, but was scared away by roommates returning home.

On June 24, 1993, Harell broke into a woman’s home and raped her at knifepoint while her infant daughter was sleeping in another room. He told the woman that he had a friend in her daughter’s room and he would hurt the baby if she resisted.

On July 2, 1993, Harell viciously raped a 17-year-old girl as she was sleeping at home in her bed. He threatened to kill her with a bayonet-type knife, which he also hit her with. He told her he had a friend upstairs with a gun who was raping her sister. After the assault, the girl screamed and her sister ran into the room with a fireplace poker; she threw it at Harell as he ran out the door. He left his wallet behind. Police officers who were investigating the crime arrested Harell as he drove by the home.

According to the court document, Harell was accused of three other assaults prior to his conviction. In 1988, his older sister accused him of sexually assaulting her in their Maryland home.

On Nov. 6, 1992, a 15-year-old Oak Harbor girl reported to police that Harell had raped her after she fell asleep on the couch at an apartment. He was charged with rape of a child in the third degree, but the charge was dismissed after the victim declined to testify at court. But Harell admitted the rape to the psychologist, saying that she was crying and asked him to stop, the certification states.

In addition, Harell’s girlfriend in 1992 accused him of raping her several times. The woman also claimed he knocked her to the ground and stomped on her stomach when she was pregnant, causing her to have a miscarriage, the court document states.

Harry Goldberg, the psychologist who interviewed Harell and studied his voluminous records, concluded that Harell has a mental abnormality that causes him serious difficulty controlling his dangerous behavior, court documents state.

In an interview after the hearing Wednesday, Baker said Harell has several options open to him. He can agree to the civil commitment or he can have a trial with either a judge or jury deciding his fate. A jury trial, she said, would take about two weeks.

For now, Harell agreed to leave the Island County jail and go to the Special Commitment Center while the legal issues are wrangled over.

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